Toronto Review: ‘Spring Breakers’
Jordan Hoffman September 8, 2012
Years ago, I saw a cartoon in an alt weekly that’s stuck with me. A performance artist is doing something absurd. Someone shouts something to the tune of “you can’t hide your lack of creativity by intentionally acting dumb.” The artist cheerfully fires back, “all response is valid!” It’s a can’t-lose proposition, and that’s what Harmony Korine has on his hands with his brilliant/putrid satire/pornography. It’s shallow, it’s boring, it’s poignant, it’s clever, it’s poorly acted, it’s intentionally poorly acted, it has no story, it has marvelous scenes, it is artful, it is hallucinatory, it is shoddily put together. All response is valid.
“Spring Breakers” is the story of four nearly nude, nubile girls bored with their deadbeat college, so they rob a diner to pay for a trip to Florida. Once there, they get high and get laid (which is kinda what they were doing up at school) but now they do it on the beach. The cheap hedonism is an epiphany for them and it gives them a purpose in life.
It would be easy to dismiss “Spring Breakers.” Lord, I’d like to. Anything that exploits women this ruthlessly begs to be dismissed. (And, sorry, Disney Girls Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, you may think this is your ticket to an adult career, but this isn’t “Ruby in Paradise” and none of you are Ashley Judd.) Unfortunately, there are moments, somewhere in the cannabis haze of day-glo bikini buttocks and cocaine-topped nipples where an abstract expressionism starts to seep off the screen. The swirl of horny jocks, skanky girls and inadvisable behavior mixed with booze, bongs, bling and ridiculous signifiers like wiggers and bronys all starts to become. . .beautiful.
Luckily, for Korine’s sake, nothing in this tale of three bad girls and their one wayward Christian friend on a crime and promiscuity bender is meant to be taken literally, or all that seriously. At times the jokes are obvious – like an appearance before the bench in quite skimpy bikinis. How you’ll take some of the other flourishes, like the fact that most of the girls’ dialogue simply describes the action that just happened, or the endlessly repeating vague platitudes (a technique also seen in Korine’s “Trash Humpers” and “The Fourth Dimension”) will be entirely up to the viewer.
“Spring Breakers” is the type of movie where you wonder when it’s actually going to kick in and start, then you check your watch and see it is nearly over. The first third of the movie is just a curvy rear-end of bad behavior shaken in your face. Then the girls get busted. (They spend a lot of time with dozens of hot young boys and girls writhing and destroying hotel rooms.) They are bailed out by James Franco, an absurdly cornrowed gangsta with platinum teeth.
“Look at my sh*t!” is his mantra, as he excites the girls with his conspicuous consumption. It is a wonderful, dreamy monologue, the inner voice of a grunting, illiterate barbarian.
Twice on the soundtrack, we hear Gomez’s call home to her grandmother. “We found ourselves here. It’s so beautiful.” The juxtaposed images the first time are of lewd prurience, and it is up to you to decide if this is to be tskked or accepted as just “kids having fun.” The second time, however, the adventures have turned more dark, more surreal and more violent. By the end, our spring breakers are wearing pink ski masks and gunning down drug kingpins in a blood ballet.
The big question is if this is art or if this is b.s. I guess I’m an easy mark, cause I’m inclined to call it art. Some of the sequences, with evocative music by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex, really work. Other times, however, it fails and fails hard.
The acting is quite poor. Korine may be nuts, but I don’t think he intentionally asked for bad performances. Also: the shtick of repetitive dialogue sometimes feels like he only shot a few lines from different angles and decided he needed to use all of them to pad this flick out to 90 minutes. Gomez’ character just up-and-disappears and, I swear to you, I would not be surprised if it was because the actress only had a few days for “Spring Breakers” and had a prior commitment. The film’s scenario (I won’t even call it a script) is so free-form that changes like this don’t really matter. “Act like you are in a movie, or something,” the girls tell one another.
The odd thing is, for a picture like this, one whose purpose, I believe, is to be critical of our consumptive culture, a film that’s eating itself is kinda perfect. All response is valid.
TIFF 2012 REVIEW: SPRING BREAKERS IS SOME KIND OF WILD
From the very first scene of bouncing breasts, bikini bottoms, and beer bongs on the beach, it's pretty clear that Spring Breakers isn't your typical teen pop vehicle. What else would you expect from director Harmony Korine, writer of Larry Clark's landmark 1995 film Kids. But where Kids was hailed for its harshly realistic depiction of that day's youth, Spring Breakers is pure fantasy. In Korine's fantasy land, young girls (like barely 18 young) wear nothing but tiny bikinis (often less), are always down to get down (even with each other), and are fueled by the thrill of the violent end of a high caliber assault rifle. This is the ultimate bad girl wet dream joyride - and damn if it's not a hell of a ride.
A smash cut from the beach party B-roll to a buttoned up college campus begins a first act full of contrasts. Our devoutly Christian heroine Faith (Selena Gomez, looking barely 15) is planning a spring break getaway with her party animal friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). But no matter how much Faith whines about wanting to leave their town, the girls don't have enough money. So the bad girl faction dons masks, steals a car, and robs a diner in a particularly stylishly-executed scene. With the money problem taken care of, it's off to Florida to get really wild.
The girls go about their hedonistic endeavors with wild abandon. Even the straight-laced Faith gets in on the fun. Plot is eschewed for visual pleasure for a solid portion of the movie, and there is certainly plenty to look at. But when the law rears its blue-capped head, the girls' fun comes to an abrupt halt. Luckily for them, salvation appears in the form of a silver-grilled rapper-slash-kingpin named Alien (played brilliantly by a corn-rowed James Franco). If you thought the girls were having a fun time before, just wait to see the havoc they can wreak with the unlimited funds and firearms of a fearless crime lord at their side.
While the scenes before us are completely ridiculous, they're actually played pretty straight-laced. At times you might even wonder if you should be laughing. It isn't exactly a satire, just a wild fantasy. That's not to say it isn't without its flaws. Much of the stylistic motifs are heavy-handed, like the constant repetition of lines and even visuals. The fact our main character is nowhere to be found for a good portion of the film, while obviously metaphorical, is also an odd decision. But these choices, drastic as they are, ultimately work and add much to the film's potential to be remarkably memorable.
It's hard to imagine the level of trust that the financiers of Spring Breakers must have had in Harmony Korine. In lesser hands, this could have ended up a drab morality tale or a wacky mess. Instead we have a raw and randy, yet also rather mature (in more ways than one) piece of cinema, one that's probably unlike anything you've seen before. One final note of praise for the gorgeous visuals shot by DP Benoît Debie - it's no coincidence that the this film reminds just a tiny bit at times of one of his other films, Gasper Noe's Enter the Void.
Toronto Film Festival: 'Spring Breakers' premiere with Selena Gomez, James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens too saucy for kids
Moms and dads, hide your Selena Gomez-loving daughters, because Harmony Korine’s girls-gone-wild-gone-to-hell Spring Breakers is definitely not for Disney-obsessed kids, or kids in general.
That was proven above and beyond at the movie’s fun, rowdy Friday night premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, packed to the gills with screaming fans of the film’s stars: Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Korine’s wife Rachel Korine, and James Franco.
Gomez, wearing a sparkling champagne-colored long-sleeved cocktail dress, and Hudgens, wearing a floor-sweeping magenta strapless gown, both by Marchesa, essentially obliterated their relatively clean images within the course of the film’s few-hour screening and Q&A — especially Hudgens. It’s a far, far cry from Wizards of Waverly Place or High School Musical.
The movie centers on Gomez as a party gal with a conscience and Christian beliefs named, appropriately, Faith, and Hudgens, Benson, and Rachel Korine as her friends and much naughtier girls, all dead-set on having the spring break of their lives. They do, filled with booty and boob shaking (more boob shots than any recent non-porn movie on memory), coke snorting, pot smoking, nudity, and general college-age hedonistic abandon. Think Fellini’s Satyricon for the rebellious teen set. They’re permanently in bikinis, whooping and yelling. After getting bailed out of jail by James Franco’s grinning gangster, who has a $ symbol tattooed on his neck, wears a metal grill, corn-rowed braids, has “Scarface on repeat” and drives a Camero with the license plate “BALLR,” things get worse and much more violent for the gals. The audience absolutely loved Franco: hilarious and totally ridiculous, clearly reveling in it. He even raps and sings Britney Spears. The movie’s bass-heavy soundtrack was also a hit, with tunes by Nicki Minaj, and a score by one-side-of-his-head shaved Skrillex, who also attended the premiere.
While Gomez is seen drunk and smoking pot in the movie, Hudgens lets it all hang out, literally. Three-ways, pot, coke, guns, sex with both women and men (Franco). She was modest at the Q&A following the premiere, and had changed into a sassy floor-length leopard print dress. Gomez changed into a strapless red cocktail one.
“It’s nice to push yourself, and transform yourself,” said Hudgens in an understatement, considering her normally family-friendly roles.
Gomez, who warned kids not to see the film, said she was grateful for her Disney roots, but wanted to really branch out. “I wanted to see if I could push myself,” she said. “I think I’ve been put into this little box, and Harmony gave me a chance. … It’s really hard to find something that shows the truth, so raw, so real.”
Korine had just finished the movie, filmed in St. Petersberg, Florida, five days earlier, he said. He had mulled over the idea for Spring Breakers for years, collecting thousands of photos of girls and guys on spring break, in all their spit, sweat, skin, sex, and sun-soaked grit. “I had this idea about girls in ski masks and guns robbing tourists,” he told the crowd. “I did something I don’t normally do. I sent the idea first, not the script first.” Inspired by Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, and YouTube videos, “I wanted it to be like a violent, relentless pop song,” he said.
Franco got that emailed idea from Korine, who also sent him the spring break photos, and he jumped on board. He even spent time, no joke, with a local guy named “Dangerous” for research. The name says it all!
“Harmony wanted to tell a story about this new generation, stylized,” said Franco. “I thought this was going to be cutting edge. As an actor, why wouldn’t you want to play something so far away from you.”
Will Gomez and Hudgens fans accept such a drastic change? Audience members after the premiere chatted about feeling a little bit in shock. But revelers still swamped the street after, taking photos and crushing forward to get a look at their favorite post-Disney queens.
Toronto: James Franco and Selena Gomez in the Awesomely Slutty Spring Breakers
Forget cable television: 2012 has put sex back in the multiplex. In addition to the unclothed Magic Mike, which raked in over $100 million at the box office, each of this year's major film festivals has been positively dominated by carnal knowledge, whether it's Sundance, where disabled John Hawkes hired a full-frontal Helen Hunt to relieve him of his virginity in The Sessions, or Cannes, where Nicole Kidman gave Zac Efron a golden shower in The Paperboy and Kristen Stewart engaged in a giddy double-handy in On the Road, and now Toronto, where director Harmony Korine (Gummo, julien donkey-boy) has brought his delirious bikini–kill epic Spring Breakers, starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens. This is a film that opens to a dubstep-scored, slow-motion sequence where frat boys pour beer on bouncing titties at the beach. 2012, y'all!
Spring Breakers casts Gomez, Hudgens, and two other interchangeable blond girls as small-town teens who are literally writhing with boredom, ready to bust out the bikinis and head down to Florida for spring break. In order to afford the trip, they rob a restaurant with some water guns (one bad girl barks to the others as encouragement, "Just pretend you're in a movie or something!"), and soon enough, they're cavorting in dollar bills as one of our ladies coos, "Seeing all this money makes my pussy wet," and another replies, "It makes my tits look bigger!" (Incidentally, this may be the best screen dialogue Vanessa Hudgens has ever been given.)
But once the girls make it to Florida for spring break, they get even wilder … and so does Korine. There's a seemingly limitless supply of sequences where Gomez will call her grandma back home and murmur "We saw some beautiful things here" as Korine cuts to a debauched spring break threesome, or Gomez doing a bong hit, or a shot of all four girls squatting by the side of the road, peeing through their bikini bottoms. It's silly, and it's on the nose, and it's great. And then they meet James Franco.
What Matthew McConaughey did for Magic Mike, Franco does for Spring Breakers: Each pushes their star power past parody as the debauched MC holding court over a motley crew of hard-bodied, in-too-deep young ones. In this case, Franco is playing a rapper–criminal named Alien, and he's done up in cornrows, tattoos, and a ratty beard where it looks like every strand grew out to a different length. "I'm from a different planet, yo'll," he says (combining "yo" and "y'all" seems to be a thing with Alien) as he takes the girls on a tour of his decked-out seaside pad: "I got nunchucks, I got shuriken, I got my dark tanning oil … "
Soon enough, they're all committing crimes and coitus together, and eventually, it all leads to a centerpiece sequence where a shirtless Franco sits at a white piano by the beach, plinking out Britney's "Everytime," as the girls frolic with shotguns while dressed in swimsuit tops, DTF-emblazoned sweats, and pink ski masks. This movie!
Korine embraces a somewhat more conventional indie-movie cutting style than he has in his past work, but Spring Breakers is still a left-of-center blast from nearly everything else Hollywood puts out. (If anything, it feels like a really gonzo, gigantic Larry Clark movie, which suggests that for Korine — who wrote the screenplay to Clark's Kids — the pupil has become the master.) It even manages to make something out of Hudgens, who heads to the basement of her usually vacuous screen persona, lifts a trap door, and descends even further into a nihilistic, fuck-it, charismatic kind of place. She may be the real deal, yo'll.
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